Social Services Does Not Exist

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"My father and mother just sit around the house all day, seven days a week. My father likes to gamble on baseball, and my mother is busy developing an illegal ROM for cheating on slot machines. My father tells me, 'When I win big, I'll take you to Hawaii.' Then my mother says, 'Your father is not allowed to leave the country, so that will never happen. Ha ha ha.' Our house is always filled with laughter."

There is an intrinsic understanding throughout most of modern Western society that children are to be loved, nurtured, and protected throughout their childhoods by their parents. Parents are viewed as having a responsibility to ensure their child's happiness and welfare, as a necessary component to their healthy development into responsible and mature adults prepared to face the demands of society.

Parents in many comedic series believe that this is a load of poppycock, but this isn't usually due to malice or disdain for their offspring. They are simply such jerkasses, either through self-absorption or stupidity, that they don't even understand that passing all their debts onto their children, arranging random and contradictory marriages, and engaging in thoughtless abuse and neglect of their children could cause psychological harm. They aren't applying the rod to avoid spoiling the child - they don't even know it's there. (Rod or child, whichever.)

Needless to say, these sorts of parents tend to be the sort that would never be allowed to keep their children. At the very least neglectful parents would have to go through a few parenting sessions. But just as There Are No Therapists in fiction, there are also apparently no social services, either. The helpless kid is just going to have to grin and bear it - and because it's usually played for comedy rather than drama, they usually do. Sometimes they can escape to Staying with Friends.

The tropes: Beleaguered Bureaucrat, Department of Child Disservices, and Social Services Does Not Exist; overlap since they all involve the same problems. The employees are often overworked, underpaid, lack resources, and suffer the public’s wrath. They then turn into the Obstructive Bureaucrat and use Bothering by the Book to slow down the workload or get revenge on the people who make unreasonable demands.

There's also the matter of all those kids running around apparently without any parents at all.

There's a simple reason for this with the consistently abusive parents - the abuse is a big part of the series or movie, and if Social Services did step in and take the kids away, they'd probably never let them go back.

If it's a non-human species abusing its kids, it's Abusive Alien Parents. When social services do exist and are useless, it's the Department of Child Disservices. Often combined with Babysitter From Hell.

Examples of Social Services Does Not Exist include:

Anime and Manga

  • Genma Saotome, father of Ranma Saotome, is quite possibly the king of this trope—a selfish and casually abusive father whose antics are played for humor despite having essentially ruined his son's life at every possible opportunity.That Ranma hasn't cracked and murdered his dad by now, or at least beaten some sense into him, makes him a possible candidate for sainthood. Of course, Ranma being a martial artist, he's tried beating sense into Genma's thick head, but it never seems to take.
    • Soun Tendo of the same series, while not nearly as much of a bastard as Genma, does almost nothing for his family other than occasionally bursting into tears, leaving his eldest daughter to run things. However; at the time the series takes place, Kasumi probably could legally have her younger siblings in her care as she's a legal adult...but how does she make any money?
      • Soun Tendo is a member of Nerima's city council, a job that presumably includes a salary. Likewise, as he owns the land his dojo is built upon (and owning any land at all in Tokyo means you are wealthy, given the truly insane real estate prices there), he may own other property and collect rents.
    • Principal Kuno would regularly shave off his son's hair on a whim (and in hair-trimmer vs. bokken duels) and generally humiliate him. The anime expands this by hinting at physical abuse (flashbacks from the episode where Kuno and the Principal's relationship is revealed include Kuno Senior taking Tatewaki's food while apparently berating him, forcing his head into a sink so he can shave him bald, and tying him up and dangling him from a tree). Already a fan of American culture, he also abandoned his family to live in Hawaii for several years. He came back even worse.
  • Ryuunosuke and her father in Urusei Yatsura, often considered the prototype for Ranma, although Ryuunosuke is an actual girl who was raised as a guy by a dad who refuses to recognize that she's a girl, mainly because he doesn't think a girl can take over his precious tea shop. This has left her with rather bad gender issues; she's fully aware she's a girl, and wants to be a "real" girl more than anything, but her father refuses to allow her to wear female clothes or even talk of herself as being a girl, nevermind try and get a boyfriend or try to act like a girl... in fact, because she's spent so long being brought up to act like a boy, she doesn't even know how to act like a girl.
    • She also has an arranged marriage she doesn't want. Namely because her fiance Nagisa Shiowatara's father is just as much a loony as her own- upon having a son, rather than raise him as a boy, he deliberately raises him as a girl in order to match the "boy" that Ryuunosuke was raised to be. Unlike her, however, he does seem to know how to act like a guy, and he does realize that he's actually male, but he enjoys crossdressing. What makes things worse for her is that he possesses a number of ghostly powers, due to having died from eating sea urchin ice cream then coming back from the dead... though this also gives him some ghostly weaknesses, like being repelled by spirit wards. He's also, despite his Bishonen body, an expert sumo wrestler and quite capable of beating her in a fight.
  • The parents of Hayate the Combat Butler are quite possibly the worst Jerkass parents in the world. Due to the father's laziness and the mother's gambling habits, Hayate has been the primary breadwinner in his house since the age of eight. In the very first chapter they steal sixteen-year-old Hayate's hard-earned paycheck, lose it all on pachinko, then sell their only son's organs to "some very nice people" to pay off their 156,804,000 yen ($1,467,504) debt. And just to top it off, this happens on Christmas Eve. The mental scars left by his parents persist for a very, very long time.
    • Hell, Hayate's so used to his parents being complete jerkasses that he usually speaks rather casually about all the abuse he's been put through. Usually to the discomfort and disbelief of his listeners. The example speech at the top of this page was a cheerfully-read grade school oral report which left the teacher and the entire class in tears.
  • Gendo Ikari, as usual for Neon Genesis Evangelion, is an example of a normally comedic trope deconstructed into something tragic. At least he palms his kid off on someone who tries...eventually. Of course, given that this is post-apocalyptic Japan, it's possible that social services actually doesn't exist; and regardless, given that NERV basically is the world government, even if they do exist there's nothing they could do to stop Gendo.
    • Heck, given that it's post-apocalyptic Japan, they could exist, but since it's, you know, after the apocalypse, they're really, really busy taking care of all the no doubt millions of now homeless children and new adoptions. Some people are bound to fall through the cracks...
      • In the manga, Toji explains they had so many orphans, they had to handle them by large groups. It was so bad that Toji's group preferred to escape and try to live on their own.
  • In Bleach Isshin Kurosaki regularly launches surprise assaults against his son Ichigo, claiming it as a form of martial arts training. He's far more likely to be on the receiving end of abuse from his daughter, but he did at one point rip off his shirt and tell them, "Come give your big, sexy daddy a hug!".
    • To be fair, he's likely doing it to toughen them up without having to explain the reason, which is that soul eating monsters will try to kill them, just like they killed their mother, an experience that more or less utterly traumatized all three kids. He can't explain without bringing the painful experience to the forefront and causing them to lose it entirely, nor can he stop them from being targets.
    • Orihime and Chad both have a curious lack of parents or guardians? Somehow, Orihime's brother Sora was able to get custody of her as soon as he turned 18 (maybe not hard since the parents were abusive, but that only makes one wonder why social services didn't do anything before then), and both Orihime and Chad live on their own. At the age of 15.
    • Soul Society itself has this trope; as far as we know there are no services for any of the newly arrived souls, even child ones.
  • Ai Yori Aoshi: Kaoru's grandfather was apparently into the habit of beating the hell out of him with his cane while goons held him down and burning his deceased mother's last worldly possessions, just to show his tyrannical disapproval of her marriage to Kaoru's father. Kaoru should be nominated for sainthood for just running away and not cracking and murdering his grandpa, like any normal person would have done when pushed that far.
  • Binbou Shimai Monogatari is about 15-year old Kyou, who takes care of her 9-year old sister Asu without any help. She manages, even with the little money she is allowed to earn, but it's still a highly unlikely situation in modern-day Japan.
    • Of course, later they decline their aunt's aid just because they like it that way.
  • Hayate Yagami of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, who has been living independently for who knows how many years after her parents died. While she's shown to be mature enough to live on her own, and her mysterious uncle explains where she gets the funds for supporting herself, one wonders how no one thought that it might be a good idea to have someone look after a wheel-chair bound 9-year old Ill Girl. Granted this was part of an Evil Plan, so those in charge might be forcing the authorities to look the other way.
  • It's unclear how did the younger, sickly Hazuki of Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito had ended up under the care of Hatsumi, who is both parentless and mute.
  • One Piece: Luffy's grandfather was apparently dead-set on taking Genma Saotome's crown for this trope. His 'training to be a strong man', even if it was mostly played for laughs when referenced, was pretty horrific. Getting tossed down a cliff, put into a jungle in the middle of the night, tied to a balloon and allowed to float away, and Lord knows what else is strongly implied to have traumatized Luffy; he avoids thinking about what happened, and his grandpa is the only person he truly fears.
  • Code Geass. Emperor Charles is nothing but horrible to Lelouch and Nunnally (And in all odds, a few of the other princes and princesses of Britannia that we never got to see.). Their mother Marriane, however, was evidently a very sweet mother, despite her true nature, until she was murdered in the backstory. The loss of his only decent parent left its scars on both children, literally in Nunnally's case, and it's no coincidence that Lelouch practically reveres his mother until he actually gets to meet her again eight years after the murder and realizes she wasn't Parent of the Year either.
    • Nunally's blindness was caused by Charles's geass, not by psychological trauma. Her legs were crippled by bullet wounds. To his credit, Charles planned to abolish all human interaction and individuality, so he figured his parenting wouldn't matter when he was finished. Also, he was emperor of half the planet. Who had the authority to take his kids away?
      • There's also Suzaku, who, after the death of his father, apparently took care of himself for most of the seven years between then and the start of the anime, except for an unspecified period referenced in a Picture Drama where he was briefly cared for by an unrelated woman dubbed "Biker Gal" by the fans. In-series it's stated that his extended family basically threw him out on his ear when he applied for Honorary Britannian-hood.
  • The ending of AIR, where a depressed Haruko pretty much abandons her dying (and mostly bedridden) foster child Misuzu to the care of the wandering stranger Yukito. Despite the fact that Misuzu is the center of what amounts to a child custody conflict, her guardian pretty much running away, no one notices or does anything but the main character, and he doesn't seek any help either.
    • Although Yukito's probably the only one that would understand what's going on, anyway. And she might not have been abandoned, there's the whole two timeline thing going.
  • Loveless avoids the common partner trope to this, There Are No Therapists, by having Ritsuka go see one regularly to help with his personality change. However, it is very evident to nearly every adult that sees him in the first volume that he is being both physically and mentally abused by his mother and no one does anything about it! While his home room teacher attempts to help him out by trying to meet his parents, she is discouraged from doing so by Soubi and her faculty, and she generally has little to no success. This could be an example of Japanese social mores at work here, priding the notion of a person caring for themselves and outside help is unwelcome, making this a case of Values Dissonance, but still...
  • In the English Gag Dub of Crayon Shin-chan, Penny's father is physically abusive to Penny and her mother. Even though the police and school administrators know about it, nobody does anything.
    • Misae/Mitsy in both versions. If Shin badmouths her or just happens to be in the wrong place in the wrong time, she whacks him. One example occurs in an episode where Hima kept trying to steal a magazine Misae was trying to read. After she discovers that Hima drew in it, what does she do? Does she scold Hima? Hell no! She hits Shin for no reason, even though he just got home.
  • In Hell Girl: The Cauldron of Three, the protagonist Yuzuki's mother was allowed to die of wasting illness untended because her dead husband was (wrongfully) despised for causing the accident in which he died, despite little Yuzuki begging for help from neighbors and hospitals. And then allowed orphaned little Yuzuki to die alone, filling her soul with such hatred and denial that she became a candidate for following in Hell Girl's footsteps.
  • In Iron Wok Jan, Jan was raised by his grandfather to become a master chef. His training methods included slamming him against a boiling hot steamer if he kept tofu boiling for longer than a minute. He also would beat the ever-loving hell out of him with his cane, to the point where Jan's back is covered with scars (which at one point clue his rival in to the nature of his upbringing). It's also heavily implied than Jan never went to school, just lived with his grandfather learning how to cook.
  • In Naruto, it appears that, with VERY few exceptions, the titular character was all but socially isolated to the point of emotional abuse from very early childhood. And since the Not So Different moment with Gaara, fanfiction writers take it to the logical extreme, horrendous physical abuse is added on to the emotional abuse, making one wonder how Naruto managed to be as well-adjusted as he is if that's true.
    • There are a lot of orphans on the show, mostly because of the wars and rampaging demons that were around. A lot of them get adopted by Villains or turn into an Anti-Villain. The chaos might explain the lack social services abroad but surely Konoha could provide an orphanage for the children whose parents got killed in battle. Especially for their Person of Mass Destruction: Naruto. (and to a lesser extent, Sasuke)
  • Likewise, social services might as well be non-existent in Fruits Basket. The Sohma family is large and powerful and probably capable of bribing the authorities to ignore all the kids they've traumatized, the number of which could start their own national baseball league. But this doesn't help explain Tohru, whose mother was so incapacitated after the death of her father as to have forgotten to feed her 4-year-old daughter for weeks on end, or Uotani, whose emotionally distant and constantly drunk father fails to realize his daughter has joined a gang by the fifth grade. These guys give the NGE parents a run for the gold in the "emotional scaring" event in the Destructive Parenting Olympics.
    • One reviewer noted: "in the world of Fruits Basket, good parents are as common as penguins in the Sahara—every single one is either neglectful, smothering, unfeeling, abusive, misguided, or dead."
  • Ayashi no Ceres: Here is a 16 year old girl who's being actively hunted down by her own family in order to kill her while her twin brother is being held captive by said family and submitted to all kinds of experiments to force his alternate personality to take over. Not to mention the family then all but poisoning national water supplies in order to induce superpower development and taking the very few young teenage girls who manage to survive back to their facility, brainwashing them, and ultimately forcibly impregnating them.
  • Detective Conan: here's Conan, an apparent six year-old who's been abandoned by his parents for well over a year, living with a drunkard and a teenage girl, and witnessing/investigating several vicious murders a week... sometimes with his first-grader friends in tow (because therapists don't exist either)! This is all made slightly worse by the fact that Conan is in contact with both a lawyer and several dozen police officers regularly. There's also no mention that his parents, who initially had "gone to America and gotten in an accident", never came back to collect him and in fact have been doggedly coming up with random excuses for leaving him with the Mouris for the last 67 volumes.
    • Shinichi Kudo's situation before he was de-aged, in which he (a teenager) had been living alone in a giant house for an unspecified amount of time because his parents had decided to take an extended vacation.
    • Kogoro: the guy punches Conan in the skull for "playing" with the evidence, disrupting the case, and being smarter than him.
    • Hattori's father has punched him hard enough to send him flying. In front of several police officers. Of course, it might be because he's their boss, but still, none of them seem to even blink.
  • In Pokémon, you'd think that after Brock's father abandoned his family and his mother died left, the social services would help look after his dozen siblings, rather than just letting the teenager who's also holding down a job as a gym leader do it all by himself.
    • It's made worse, when Brock leaves his dozen siblings with newly found father, who is completely incompetent (come on, who would expect this guy to take care of 9 children). And it's later revealed that their mother was alive all along and wandering around the world like her husband. It seems that leaving your children completely alone with just an older teenage brother in charge isn't considered a crime in the Pokemon world.
    • Really the whole franchise. It's about capturing Monsters who have the ability to create near every element and snap an adult's spine with nary a wink, and that's not even getting into the legendaries (one of whom is basically God). Now remember the main character is 10 years old...
  • Maron's parents from Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne emotionally scarred their daughter by regularly leaving her at home alone at night as a young girl because of their jobs. Before she was even in grade school, they left to work overseas, and haven't contacted her since when the series begins. Miyako and her family might have been right across the hall to take care of her, but really, who the hell thought it was okay for a girl that young to be living in an apartment alone? By the time the series begins, Maron is a Broken Bird incapable of comprehending "love" because "no one taught [her] about it" and spends most of her time pretending not to be depressed and stealing valuable pieces of art in the name of God. It gets worse when you start thinking about how Miyako's father, who knows all about Maron's situation and sees her on almost a daily basis, is a police officer...
  • If not for this trope, Kanamemo would've been a pretty darned short series/manga.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Seto Kaiba was abused by his adoptive father, then somehow managed to raise his brother all alone after his adoptive father's death.
    • In the manga, Bakura is seen writing a letter to his sister asking how she and their parents are doing, implying, naturally, that he doesn't live with them. Sure, his father is still alive and presumably sends him money and set up the apartment, but he's underage and living completely alone. Mostly to stop the Spirit of the Ring from putting other people in comas, of course, which just makes it worse.
    • Raphael, Alister, and Valon probably would've escaped Dartz's organization even though he was the one that started each of their breakdowns if they'd had more support or someone to properly look after them. In both the dub and original Japanese, Raphael and Alister combine this with There Are No Therapists due to their misanthropy.
    • Jonouchi, at least in the manga, should've never been kept with his alcoholic, gambling-addicted, and potentially abusive father. He seems sane and optimistic enough, but one has to wonder about his theme of gambling and chance cards...
    • Somewhat justified with the Ishtars, (who, especially Marik, also clearly need some therapy), since they lived underground and cut off from society almost entirely and had other goals once they freed themselves.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Jaden/Judai gets kidnapped for three days by an insane richman and nobody does anything about it. And there's numerous missing students, none of whom get searched for (no official investigation) and once some of them return there's no legal investigation about it.
  • Literally half the cast of Madoka Magica is living without parents or guardians. They're in middle school. In fact, the only notable family is titular character's. Not that they can help her daughter much anyway.
  • In Grave of the Fireflies, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko are left homeless after the destruction of their home by Allied bombing and the death of their mother. Their aunt takes them in for a short while, but after leaving her house neither the police or doctors are willing to help them and they must fend for themselves, stealing food to survive and living in an abandoned bomb shelter by a river.
    • Sadly Truth in Television regarding the state of Japan at that point in time; during the last months of World War II, the entire island was suffering mass starvation and an almost completely devastated infrastructure and economy.

Comic Books

They aren't bad people. They love me. They don't really mean it when they tell me to get kidnapped.

  • Billy Batson, aka the first Captain Marvel, was thrown to the streets by his uncle after his parents died, said uncle keeping Billy's inheritance for himself. At least his sister Mary ended up in a orphanage.
    • After Billy became Captain Marvel, he managed to get around the subject by simply transforming into the Captain, putting on a fancy suit, and pretending to be his own uncle. It doesn't hurt that in his Captain Marvel form, Billy resembles his dad, so it's easy to pass off.
  • Something must be seriously wrong with Gotham's Social Services system considering how many of the rogues were abused. Riddler beaten for cheating? Two-Face on a fixed, drunken coin toss? Black Mask neglected by his socialite family? Scarecrow's grandmother used to lock him in an old church after putting something on his clothes to make birds attack him. Presumably he would have either missed school entirely afterwards or come to school with at least a few visible wounds. Surely that was an extreme enough case to get the ball rolling with social services even back in the day. But no... You just had to let him grow up to be a sadistic Mad Scientist with Mommy Issues, didn't you, social services? Then again, seeing as how Gotham's municipal government is routinely presented as being underfunded and rife with corruption, the only surprise is that we're surprised.
    • This is lampshaded by Catwoman in the graphic novel Selina's Big Score. Selina, a straight example of this trope herself, had pulled off a multimillion-dollar heist, and gave a good portion of the money to her recently-deceased friend's mother and young daughter, knowing full well Gotham's social services are a joke.
    • Averted at least once when a social worker came to Wayne Manor to ask questions about Jason Todd's death and left vowing to save the other children (Tim and Cassie) living there. Then played straight when nothing came of it (because it's Bruce Wayne).
    • Also averted Pre-Crisis when Jason was taken by Child Services because Bruce wasn't his legal guardian. The papers were signed, but they weren't approved.
  • Justified in Runaways: No one ever realized that Chase was being abused because his mad scientist father found a method of beating him that left no marks.
    • Also subverted later, after the Pride were all killed off. No sooner had the kids escaped, than Captain America found them and put them all in separate foster homes. The kids all promptly escaped and regrouped, because they missed each other and found social services ill-equipt to help them get over the trauma of having one's super-villain parents being killed by Biblical giants.
  • Deliberately averted in Stan Lee's work for Marvel Comics: he disliked the idea of superheroes having juvenile sidekicks, saying that in the real world they'd be hauled before a judge for imperiling the safety of a minor. It didn't stop him from creating Johnny Storm and Peter Parker, both of whom were teenagers when they started their superhero careers.


  • A Cinderella Story and Another Cinderella Story.
  • The Dead End Kids, in the movies Dead End, Angels with Dirty Faces, and just about every other film they appeared in. They're just homeless kids who live in the streets without any supervision, causing mischief. Granted, in Dead End one of their members does have a mother (but a Disappeared Dad) that he frequently ditches so he can hang out with the gang. Another member mentions having a father who's drunk all the time. They were often used in gangster movies to symbolize the kinds of kids gangsters were before they grew up and became criminals.
    • The exception would be They Made Me a Criminal, directed by Busby Berkeley (yes, THAT Busby Berkeley). In this case the Dead End Kids are sent to a ranch in Arizona by a philanthropic priest who hopes to reform them through hard work and good caretaking figures. Whether it works or not is up for debate.
  • Carrie: Even by the looser standards of 1976, there's no way that any social worker would let Carrie stay with a mother as abusive as Margaret. Might be justified in that Margaret, at least in the book, views the entire government (including, presumably, social services) as godless and Satanic, and would most likely react violently to any attempt to take away her daughter.
    • Very much averted in the sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2. Not only do social services put Rachel in foster care in order to save her from her mother, but the mother herself gets sent to a mental hospital for being Ax Crazy.
  • In a way, this is the whole premise of Gone Baby Gone: Amanda's mother is neglectful to a point that is just shy of manslaughter, but rather than alert the proper authorities the Anti-Villain takes matters into his own hands, abducting the young girl, staging her death, and secreting her away to live in safety. The author of the book the film is based on, Dennis Lehane, used to work with abused children.
  • Kevin's parents by the second Home Alone film have problems with this. Leaving him behind once can possibly be justified (particularly since the film clearly shows they mistook the annoying neighbor kid for Kevin,) but not keeping track of a child two years in a row simply because they were afraid to miss a plane? No one in the family notices a child missing for the duration of a flight from Chicago to Miami (and a child who's been missing before, no less?) And once they report it to the police, they JOKE about it (out of nerves, but still?) In real life, this magnitude of neglect would certainly prompt at least an interview with social services.


  • Harry Potter, himself is a victim of this. Surely locking a child in his room and refusing to let him out breaks some law. For that matter, did Social Services even know where he was, or do Wizards have the power to just stick people with horrible families with no oversight from Muggle government?
    • Given that Harry attended Muggle primary school until eleven years of age he had to exist officially within the system -- the Dursleys could not have enrolled him in school without the relevant paperwork. At this point one is left wondering whether or not every single mandated reporter lil' Harry ever encountered (teachers, school nurses, pediatricians, etc.) was blind deaf and dumb.
    • If you saw a sickly little boy who regularly looked like something bigger than a dog had been seriously mauling him, would you try and do something about it? Because if so, it seems that you think differently than any of Lupin's neighbors did when he was growing up. He never mentions this having been a downside of being a werewolf, which makes it a fairly reasonable assumption that nobody responded to what would have looked like some form of abuse from the outside.
      • Lupin's parents were almost certainly wizards, as a Muggle family would neither have much opportunity to be exposed to a werewolf attack (at least, none that left any survivors) nor have the facilities to care for a child inflicted with lycanthropy. Which means they almost certainly raised him in isolation, as his condition would need to be kept secret from the rest of wizarding society.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaires go through a series of guardians who are either abusive or incompetent, and eventually end up wandering around on their own as wanted criminals. If there is any equivalent of social services in their world, it's too corrupt, stupid, or uncaring to do much. This however, is entirely fitting given the way adults are portrayed as universally incompetent or evil (or dead).
  • The Bucket family in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is dirt-poor to begin with. After Mr Bucket loses his job, things get worse, but no one seems to notice the four starving grandparents confined to a single bed or that Charlie is looking a lot thinner and doesn't have the energy to go outside at recess.
  • Roald Dahl stories like James and the Giant Peach and Matilda. As you can see from this, he likes this trope.
  • While nearly every V. C. Andrews novel revels in this trope (except for the Orphans series, but just barely), Heaven is probably one of the worst cases. Heaven's father is an alcoholic who only comes home to screw his wife. When he comes home for good, he sells his children to childless couples for money. It doesn't help that Heaven tried to reach out to her teacher for help, but her teacher turns out to be incredibly useless, only taking Heaven and her brother out for an expensive lunch. You would think she would show more concern, since she knew Heaven and her siblings were on the verge of poverty and couldn't go to school every day because they had to work on the farm.
  • In keeping with the time period they were set/written in, the orphan protagonists of Horatio Alger, Jr. books tend to be left to their own devices to get ahead in the world. Charities exist, but are overstretched and can do no more than provide minimal food and shelter in bad weather for the children.
  • The Boxcar Children was written in the 1920s. Social services as we know it really didn't exist, with the exception of orphanages that focused on caring for the children they had, not tracking down runaways.
  • There is a series of children's books by Barbara Robinson called "The Best _____ Ever". A series of characters who the stories revolve around, a family of children called the Herdmans. Their mother has been stated to be continuously working herself long shifts and is only sometimes seen outside of work and their dad has caught a train years ago and was never seen since. They have virtually no adult supervision and act almost criminally, repeatedly beating each other up, setting things on fire, stealing, have no apparent source of income, and live in a house that's a death-trap with a cat that's incredibly dangerous. Yet CPS never seems to go after them.
    • Subverted in one trip where it's stated that someone is told to investigate and actually does come over to their house. The result was that she fell into a hole and their cat jumped her. If she didn't have a hat on she'd have been bald. So she simply just checks by and makes sure that the Herdmans didn't burn the house down. Still; you'd think they'd call the police, but it's implied that most of the adults in the series are afraid to.
  • Averted in The Pale King. Toni and her mother simply avoid them by drifting around the country. This lasts until the mother is murdered by her boyfriend.
  • In Death: The good news is that this trope is averted in this series. The bad news is that the Department of Child Disservices trope is played straight instead, as Eve Dallas had to discover for herself as a child.
  • In the Diamond Brothers mystery series, when Nick Diamond's parents move to Australia, he stays behind and moves in with his big brother Tim instead. Tim works as a private detective, but he's so incompetent that they barely have enough money for food, clothing, or roof repairs. Actually, incompetent doesn't cover it; Tim appears at times to be borderline mentally retarded, and though he's a legal adult is clearly unfit to be the sole caretaker of a minor. Their parents are totally oblivious to the situation; they occasionally send cheery postcards from Australia, but rarely send money and never visit.
  • Played with by Ephraim Kishon: They do exist, but the young social worker Eva is clearly overstrained caring for Yemenite refugee Saadya Shabatai, his big family and his antics, and at the end, he ends up comforting and consulting her.

Live Action TV

  • Pretty much any parent on Arrested Development falls into this trope, even the well meaning Michael. It can range from simply not listening or paying attention to their children, to openly ranking their children from favorite to least favorite, to adopting a Korean child to make their children jealous, to adopting a child to screw their rivals, to setting their kids up to take the fall for various felonies.
  • Supernatural: Okay, so it's many years ago and it might have been necessary but you would have thought that some nice person in a state somewhere would have been worried about the two young Winchester boys moving around everywhere and acting too old for their ages. Especially as their father is often drunk/neglectful/absent. And especially as their mother died when they both were very young. Although the frequent moves and constant use of fake IDs probably helped keep Child Services from ever catching up.
  • Based on the descriptions that the Bundy children give of their childhoods, it's a miracle that Peggy wasn't arrested for neglect. Not that Al does much either, but at least he has the excuse of being at the shoe store all day...
  • Played with in Law and Order Special Victims Unit, where social services do exist, but the system is far from perfect and it suffers from many limitations such as dwindling budget, lack of manpower, and outdated/incorrect data. Many times the detectives stumble across a case that social services really should have picked up on, but the victims unfortunately fall through the cracks in the system.
  • Sam's mom on iCarly should've had Sam taken away from her on general principle after one of her many dangerous or neglectful episodes.
  • In Falling Skies, obviously the larger system has broken down, but once they take the mind-controlling harnesses off the kids backs there doesn't seem to be much effort to interview them about their experiences nor offer them counseling for what was obviously a very difficult experience. One is pretty much left to wander around the compound freely with a dazed expression.
  • In Justified, Noble's Holler serves as a refuge for battered women in the absence of any regional domestic violence centers. In turn when it comes out that Loretta's father is dead, Child Services does come in right away and put her in a foster home.
  • In Shameless (US version) social services do exist but they seem to have largely given up on the Gallagher family. The parents consist of an absentee mother and an alcoholic father and the kids have been taken away by child services in the past. However, it never seemed to stick and now Fiona makes sure that they stay under Child Services' radar.


Newspaper Comics

  • Wellington in The Perishers is an orphan who lives with his dog in an abandoned railway station. Somehow they seem to get along fine without attracting any attention from the authorities.
  • In Parlor, Bedroom, and Sink, the infant protagonist Bunky was often left to go on adventures on his own, usually involving the wicked Fagin trying to kidnap him and force him to partake in scams. His father usually isn't even around to protect his family.

Video Games

  • Children and Silent Hill do not mix well. Alessa was emotionally and physically abused by basically everyone in her life, Angela was repeatedly raped by her father, Laura is a (possibly homeless) orphan whose best chance for adoption was a terminally ill, bed-ridden woman who died a few weeks later, the children at Wish House were systematically abused for brainwashing purposes, and the Shepard, Holloway, Fitch and Bartlett families murder one of their children each generation. Needless to say (but it will be said anyway) social services is nowhere to be seen.
  • In The Sims 1, the Social Worker would come to pick up a baby who was starving, but wouldn't do anything about a school-age kid who was orphaned. In The Sims 2, they shaped up somewhat, but they became a little over-responsive. They can take a child if they get a bad grade in school, so it's not much of an improvement. Luckily, Sims 3 seems to have fixed all of the problems with the social workers
    • They won't do anything about teenagers though. Teens can starve to death and live alone, despite only being around 14 – 16 years old.
  • Subverted in Final Fantasy XIII. In "Final Fantasy: Episode Zero", Lightning is actually given the option of accepting help from the government when her mother dies—the fact that she decided to raise Serah on her own anyway serves to underline her personality. The trope is further twisted when Serah is engaged to Snow: With a strong parental figure during her formative years she turned out just fine--Lightning is the one with baggage.
  • When Miles Edgeworth's father was murdered in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, he was almost immediately adopted by Manfred von Karma, the guy who killed his father in the first place. Did no one object to a ten-year-old being taken off to Germany by a man he'd never met who wasn't even an American citizen?
    • And no justification for Trucy Wright. She's an eight year old who's almost immediately adopted by an out of work disbarred attorney whose only tie to her is that he was her father's lawyer. At fifteen she's helping to support the family by performing magic acts around town. Phoenix mentions that there's no one else to take care of her, as her entire family is dead/missing except for an uncle who's in police custody at the time. He offers to look after her, and she accepts happily, and what with him being a former lawyer could probably get legal guardianship legally.
  • Tales of the Abyss has Anise being The Mole for Mohs because of her parents being too dim-witted to realize that their gullibility with their finances qualifies as Financial Abuse. However, social services probably don't exist due to the Score being in place and all.
  • Rule of Rose: It's set in rural English countryside in the 1930's, but it's still pretty amazing that nobody in the nearby villages noticed that the orphanage had gone Lord of the Flies and all the adults had disappeared.
    • Martha (before she disappeared) did realize something was up and contacted the police, but they dismiss her concerns.

Web Comics

  • Played with in El Goonish Shive. Tedd's dad specifically arranged everything with social services to accommodate for Ellen. Played straight with the principal of Moperville North High School, who even the kids note should have been fired long ago.
  • This is the only explanation for Namine, Sora, and Riku (presumably teenager aged) even being on Ansem Retort. Social Services should have been on FOX's asses the minute Kairi (another teen) was killed by a demon.
    • Confirmed to be teenagers; a oneshot gag has them trying to get their driver's licenses only for Sora to destroy the set of a hospital drama and kill one of the actors.

Web Original

  • Alice and Kev, a story made using The Sims 3. Despite having an abusive parent, being dirt poor, hungry, and homeless no one comes to save Alice. This actually makes a little sense in-game, where social services won't help teenagers for whatever reason.
  • In the real world, the motions would have been set for The Nostalgia Critic to have been taken away from his parents as soon as he'd shown the picture of them tearing him apart.

Western Animation

  • Homer Simpson of The Simpsons is a close second for king of this trope, although to his credit he finally cleans up his act in The Movie.
    • This was poked fun at in a behind the scenes style episode, where the Running Gag of an angry Homer choking was a left-in ad lib casually described as a surprisingly amusing act of child abuse.
    • In another episode, this trope was evoked even when the law was involved. A judge emancipated Bart because Homer was such a bad father, saying she had no choices besides that and letting Homer keep custody of Bart.
    • Slightly averted in one episode where Social Services takes the kids away. However reason Social Services takes them away is because of several misunderstandings that were not the parent's fault, rather than the countless horrible things that the family actually have done.
    • However, this trope is usually necessary for Bart and Lisa (and even Maggie), in order for them to display the full extent of their Badass and Breakout Character, as opposed to being stereotypical children.
  • In Family Guy, Peter and Lois don't start out so bad. But they degenerate into complete jerkasses, with Peter even stating he doesn't care for the kids that much. And Meg is treated absolutely appallingly in many episodes. In "Dial Meg For Murder" Peter lassos her, drags her down the stairs and prepares to brand her with a red hot poker. Turns out she's already been branded by the mayor, not that Peter cares. He also practices riding a bronco on Chris' back. Lois is more one for emotional neglect, only showing the slightest affection for her kids when it suits her. Even Stewie doesn't get off scot free, often left on his own for long periods of time, or with no company other than the family dog.
  • By all rights, the parents of Rugrats should not be able to keep their kids, seeing all the unsupervised antics the baby protagonists get into.
    • This coming from the mother who reads PH.D Lipschitz books religiously. "How could this have happened?! We're always so careful with the kids!"
      • When they actually meet the author, he's left alone with Tommy and Chuckie and breaks down in tears because he has no idea what to do with them. And yet Didi continues to heavily rely on his advice for the smallest things, even how to feed her son on his first birthday, ignoring the advice of other parents with older children who have gone through what Tommy has.
  • Sari Sumdac of Transformers Animated. Despite being the daughter of a very prominent businessman, no one in the bureaucracy has ever picked up on the fact that she legally doesn't exist. Moreover, when her father goes missing, not only is there no attempt to provide her with an adult guardian, but she's thrown out of her home by the business's new CEO. It's okay, though, because she moves in with a bunch of giant alien robots with no legal status on Earth. Yeaaaah.
  • Just how the hell did Mr. and Mrs. Turner in The Fairly Oddparents leave their son in the hands of a sadistically evil babysitter and be oblivious to the fact that she's, well, evil? And they still neglect him when home.
  • Goof Troop. Inverted in that Max had to live with the Pete family for a short period of time, after his principal deemed that life with Goofy is too unstable. But for the most part, Goofy is the loving if sometimes clueless father and Pete is the abusive one.
  • In Madeline: Lost in Paris, the antagonist had apparently been lying to the courts for awhile to keep the other girls locked up in the lace factory. Kinda surprising considering that, you know, it's FRANCE....
  • Pretty much every adult in South Park is an idiot who barely supervise their kids at all. Well, except for Butters' family, who are just completely abusive assholes who have viciously beat him on at least one occasion.
  • Mindy's mother in Animaniacs leaves her toddler in a harness attached to a tree and expects her dog, Buttons, to watch over her time and time again; she's otherwise unsupervised. Naturally, Buttons is the primary reason Mindy remains alive. Lampshaded when Mindy's mother leaves Mindy alone to go to a "better parenting conference".
    • Averted in a Slappy Squirrel cartoon where Slappy has gone insane and Skippy is removed from her custody.
  • Hey Arnold! is pretty bad - Arnold's grandmother and grandfather are incredibly weird, but Social Services never check up - although in the movie, his grandfather mentions that if they did step in, he and grandma would go into a nursing home and Arnold would go to a foster home (potentially because of their weirdness). However, Arnold really isn't that bad, given that his grandparents can care for him. Helga, meanwhile, is probably worse, given that her dad is mentally abusive (about as close to Abusive Parents as you can get while still being kid-friendly) and her mom is an alcoholic, constantly depressed and unaware of her surroundings, has no drivers license and falls asleep in weird places after making "smoothies".
    • When Helga goes in for counseling, Bob and Miriam lecture her and tell her not to blab anything because they can all be put in the nuthouse, implying that Social Services does indeed exist. Potentially, Miriam told Helga that she was just making "Smoothies" so that people wouldn't find anything wrong if she mentioned it in school.
    • Plus, Stoop Kid. A kid who has apparently never left his stoop and appears to be in his teens. He's well known around the neighbourhood...why didn't nobody call CPS? If there's anyone who needed CPS the most in this series, it's Stoop Kid. Helga may have Abusive Parents and Arnold may have Parental Abandonment, but Helga at least has access to food (most of the time) and Arnold at least has grandparents who love him very much and are able to provide for him.
      • Stoop Kid does at least have food, clothing, furniture, and even a television on the stoop, presumably provided by the residents of the building.
    • But he still has no guardian, no proper shelter, and doesn't go to school.

Real Life

  • Some Truth in Television. Some former Soviet countries didn't even have any.
  • David Pelzer. While he did get rescued by Social Services eventually, they seemed to have not kept an eye on him at all despite how often he came to school with his various bodily injuries and signs of starvation. And once they's highly obvious they probably only took things out of context; apparently they saw nothing wrong with the rest of the boys and the one or two times they did visit, his mother knew ahead of time and managed to fool them so she could keep her scapegoat.
    • While it was never as bad as David Pelzer, after he was taken away by social services (and kept in the SAME TOWN as he lived before), one of his brothers named Richard became the scapegoat. Sure he was never outright denied food or told to eat diapers, but it's rather obvious Richard really was abused. Even one of his school-friends saw his mother beat him in the front doorway of the house and yet nobody ever seemed to tell social services...nor did they seem to come back and check up on her.
  • More Truth in Television in the many places where social services technically exist, but are completely ineffective for one reason or another (ie, too swamped with cases, don't have enough resources/time to handle everyone, not enough funding), and the population recognizes this to the point where they may as well not exist.
  • Some people actually can tell you that Social Services may exist, but people are just too afraid to call them. There have been a lot of cases where people were aware of abuse but they too were afraid of the parents' retaliations.
    • There was a case on The Justice Files, an old crime show on Discovery before it split into Investigation Discovery, where two teenaged boys shot their dad dead and most of the community came to their defense in saying they were justified. The principal and several teachers from their school said they honestly wanted to call social services but were afraid the dad would come after them.
  • This is a major source of Values Dissonance between Western countries and Japan. In Japan, in the interests of social harmony, the basic rule regarding abuse, neglect and bullying is "don't make waves." In Western countries, other authority figures will step in relatively quickly (in theory). Of course there are always exceptions.
    • Japan's foster care system is tiny and pretty shit, largely because most potential foster parents consider it such an insult to be subject to government oversight that they drop the whole thing, and back before there was oversight (late forties/early fifties) the abuse problems were truly horrific. Historically they had a flourishing fostering system, but that was a way for rich people to get excess offspring out of the way while training up their heirs. Some of the old fostering villages take orphans for the government these days, but not nearly enough.
  • This may only apply to Texas, but Texas' CPS is worthless. The vast majority of older teachers will tell you horror stories about calling CPS on parents for everything from refusing to get the kid glasses to pimping them out, and if CPS ever does show up it's usually about four months later when all the evidence is gone, and it's just the word of the teacher vs. the parents and the terrified kids.
    • In at least some cases, kids might be too afraid of CPS what with its relatively bad track record (perhaps undeserved) and general laziness.
    • Considering that CPS in many states had such poor oversight until recently (and even then, it's not what it should be), it's not surprise. This is a classic case of trying to legislate a problem away, and is often considered a thankless, unrewarding job by many state employees who are not in it.
    • Even states with fairly good programs run into the issue of finding and keeping good social workers - it is an often thankless job and fairly traumatic. New Jersey's Department of Youth and Family Services is filled with people who used to be case workers and now work in other capacities (such as office coordination and IT) because people can only see suffering every day for so long.
      • In the UK (at least) workers for social services that involves child abuse has to see a therapist or some form of counsellor, to try and help with the burden.
  • When Sylvia Likens was being tied up and tortured in Gertrude Banizewski's basement, Jenny Likens wrote to their older sister Diane, pleading for help. Diane initially assumed that Jenny was just kicking up a fuss because she didn't like being left while their parents were traveling, but finally stopped in to check up on the girls. She arrived to find that Sylvia had "run away", according to Gertrude, and Jenny was too afraid to talk to her. When she contacted social services, they failed to help at all.
  • Even without the issues involving funding and resources, there is a lot of inertia to overcome when it comes to something like taking a child away from their family (regardless of how horrible the family may be.) Many families will often fight the system when a child is taken away, saying that it's a violation of their rights and that they aren't abusing their children, instead they're disciplining them. It's always possible that kids that should be taken away won't be thanks to bureaucratic red tape.